Saturday, November 17, 2012

Vegetarian Shiitake Ramen

I loved ramen as a kid. It was one of those easy-to-make vegetarian meals that I could fix on my own in minutes. With me and two brothers in the house, we kept a pallet of ramen around at all times. Last weekend while watching The Mind of a Chef, David Chang's new PBS show, I got inspired to make a grown-up version of one of my childhood favorites. 
      The key here is the vegetarian broth, which employs kombu and dried shiitake to give it body and flavor. According to the Umami Information Center, dried shiitake mushrooms contain a high level of naturally occurring glutamate which boosts the mushroom's umami flavor.
      "This doesn't taste vegetarian," my wife called out from across the table...mission accomplished. 
      (I guess it may look like some of the following ingredients might be difficult to find, but fear not: we found everything last night at Whole Foods.) 

Vegetarian Shiitake Ramen

1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
3-4 ounces fresh baby shiitake
Cracked black pepper (to taste)

1 tablespoon ponzu 
2 packages instant ramen noodles (cooked according to package instructions, but with flavor packets tossed out)
1 medium carrot (shredded using a serrated peeler)
2 soft boiled eggs*
1 green onion (thinly sliced)
Shiitake Ramen Broth (recipe follows)

In a medium pan over high heat, add the sesame oil and the shiitake mushrooms stem-side-up. Season with plenty of black pepper. Sear the mushrooms for 2 to 3 minutes or until nicely browned. Add the ponzu and toss until the liquid has evaporated; this happens quickly. Remove mushrooms from the pan and set aside until ready to assemble the dish.

To assemble the soup, divide the noodles between two bowls. Place half of the mushrooms off to the side of the pile of noodles and half the carrots off to the other side in each bowl. Top the mound of noodles with the soft boiled egg and garnish with the onion. Pour in enough hot broth to cover the noodles about halfway. Using chopsticks, go ahead and dig in.

Shiitake Ramen Broth

1 quart low-sodium vegetable broth (like Whole Foods 365 Organic brand)
3 green onions (white and green parts, roughly chopped)
1 cup dried shiitake mushrooms
12 x 3 inch piece kombu (rinsed briefly under cold water)
4 cloves garlic (crushed)
2 teaspoons soy sauce (like Bragg's)
2 teaspoon mirin (sweet cooking wine)

Place the broth, onions, mushrooms, kombu, garlic, soy sauce, and mirin in a medium sauce pan and turn the heat on high. Once the mixture begins to boil, reduce the heat and continue to cook until the mixture has reduced by more than half; this should take 20 to 30 minutes. Strain the broth using a mesh strainer, and make sure to press all of the liquid out from the mushrooms and kombu. This should leave you with about 1 1/2 cups of very 
well-seasoned broth. Keep warm until ready to use.

* Bring salted water to a full boil, lower the eggs into the water, pull them out 6 minutes later, and place them into an ice bath.  Wait until eggs are cool to the touch and then peel and serve.